Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is Levitt a Global Warming Denier?

Freakonomics was a highly popular book that appealed to both liberals and conservatives. Therefore, it carefully avoided polarizing topics, and instead uncovered the shocking truth about sumo wrestlers and other issues that are worthy of a standard 20/20 television show. Fun stuff, not what I would call economics (see the more esteemed economist Ariel Rubinstein for support).

So, this time they figured they would slay some fallacies in the Global Warming debate. They bend over backward to apply good faith to Global Warming proponents, and agree with many of it's propositions(it is not a singular hypothesis), yet try to have fun with some issues that appear ripe for debunking (eg, noting that horses generate more pollution than oil as an energy source). Unfortunately, the Global Warming Community does not approve of their shenanigans. They have too start action, now, and these issues hurt the cause. Levitt seems to like being against conventional wisdom only on areas where there are very few opinions, so he and his coauthor weaken their case by protesting too much, trying to have it both ways (I love the Weitzman argument that since a catastrophe could happen, we should spend trillions of dollars on it--it can be applied to anything, and indeed, he has used it to explain the equity premium puzzle).

Unfortunately, alternative energy sources that are currently most viable, like cleaner coal, or nuclear, are not popular with the Global Warming crowd. Even windmills, and solar, are coming into opposition for their noise or eye pollution. The only thing they really like are pie-in-the-sky battery research, and conservation. I think this highlights that most of this debate is not about Global Warming, but more power to regulate, because it adds another busy body to approve all sorts of things (like when I have to get permission from my city when I replace my old back patio with a new one).

The Global Warming debate is like many Big Issues. They are multifaceted, so debunking a point hardly makes a difference because most people's opinion has several several pillars. Given it will take my lifetime to provide any conclusive data one way or another, I don't expect this one to subside.


Unknown said...

Abortion and crime was a weighty subject (even if Levitt turned out to be wrong).

Eric Falkenstein said...

eh, not so much. In his status group, 99% of people are pro-choice, so adding another argument to the list was not that crazy (and, I think, he's 180 wrong, in that abortion is dysgenic. Look at the demographics of the actual numbers of births since 1973). There are some issues, like evolution, where the general consensus may be divided, but the academics are in perfect unison.

Anonymous said...

Nuclear not popular with the global warming crowd? I believe you but wonder what's this is based upon?

Noah Smith said...

Eric -

and, I think, he's 180 wrong, in that abortion is dysgenic. Look at the demographics of the actual numbers of births since 1973

Wakarimasen. Are you arguing that abortion is dysgenic, and that Levitt says it isn't? Or vice versa?

And which demographics are you referring to?

Anonymous said...

I believe the global warming and even more directly, conservation efforts dance around the key issue, which is optimal population levels. If a person with one child uses plastic shopping bags at the grocer while another who has three children uses recycleable ones, who is really greener? It is the person with one child, by a wide margin. Of course in a society where poverty reigns, having multiple children may turn out greener than someone in a more affluent society having one child, especially if they provide the necessities of life to that child. You can end up getting into scary equations when talking green and the green conclusions usually lead to an anti-population, pro-low standard of living stance. It is tough stuff to rationalized.

Cleaner energy would be great. If I had a small nuke at home, I would have much lower energy bills...I might even have enough money to afford a larger family.

Eric Falkenstein said...

Look at the Children born per 1000 women by income, or education attainment. Higher means lower birth rates. That's dysgenic.

People who have abortions are somewhat forward looking. People who view life as a bunch of random things that happen to them, don't. Levitt suggested bad parents avoided creating bad apples, but that's just not what has happened.

The murder rate for 1993's of 14 to 17 year-olds (who were born in the high-abortion years of 1975 to 1979) was a 3 times that of the kids who were 14 to 17 years old in 1984. The murder rate for 35 to 49 year-olds was been falling since the early '80s, and for 25 to 34 year-olds since 1991, but the two most homicidal years for 14 to 17 year-olds were 1993 and 1994. This does not comport with Levitts theory.

Break it down the post-Roe generation by race, and it's even more clear. for black males born in 1975 to 1979, since their mothers were having abortions at three times the white rate, that should have driven down their youth murder rate relative to whites (the relative ratio should have declined). Instead, from 1984 to 1993 the black male youth homicide rate grew an apocalyptic 5 times, much higher than the white rate (which was already lower).

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. From a societal standpoint, the statistics on birth rate and as you bring up, WHO is having the babies are far from optimal. Being conscientious and having forethought about whether one can provide for their children before they are born (or, better yet, concieved) doom certain segments of society to losing the race, especially in a one person one vote system. Looking at it dispassionately, as a "game", the solution would be to forcibly constrain the reproduction of those less conscientious, or (probably even worse) to constrict the means of survival for their children. These are scary scenarios, but as the exponential increase in population density becomes more apparent, they will be addressed. It would be best to address population before crisis and panic drive such decisions. This is perhaps the one area where we may look to the Chinese regulation on reproduction as an actual humanitarian tool.

Noah Smith said...

Eric - I agree with what you're saying, except I'm skeptical about this:

Look at the Children born per 1000 women by income, or education attainment. Higher means lower birth rates. That's dysgenic.

But is the absolute spread in fertility between the classes greater than before abortion legalization? It seems to me that if lower-class people had higher fertility before legalization (since birth control was widely available before abortion was legal), the lower-class fertility rate would have farther to fall when abortion was legalized. Is this not the case?

AHWest said...

The global warming crowd, or at least their thought leaders, will always be against any actual usable energy technology. They will only support ideas in R&D. Once developed, it will always be unacceptable, because, ultimately, power serves human life and happiness, and that's what they oppose, most fundamentally. They want to make sure there's no human around to hear trees falling in forests.